To think I almost didn’t go. I had given up the idea of attending cons this year because of ongoing personal problems. But Elaine Isaak talked me into going at the last minute. And I am deeply grateful that she did. This convention was pivotal for me.
Many of my readers may be aware that I have been struggling for some time with a very difficult issue. I have finally been forced to accept that the comfortable, happy future I’d planned for all these years isn’t going to happen. I am facing the challenge of forging a life on my own. Money has always been tight; now it’s about to go critical. I have not worked full-time in many years, but must seize the opportunity to take over as director of the small public library where I am presently a part-time assistant. I must take classes and get trained. Thank god brain plasticity persists into senior years. I am trying to find professional development and grant money through ALA. Taking on all the responsibilities of a house, plus a demanding new job at an age when many people are thinking of retirement, is daunting enough. But I’m damned if I’m going to give up my writing just when I’m finally starting to get my footing and see some success.
You don’t know how strong you are until being strong is the only option.
Several things have changed since December. I found a good counselor who didn’t immediately pass judgement or whip out the prescription pad until she had a clear understanding of my situation. She astutely realized that treating my depression would only be treating a symptom. So when she finally did recommend treatment, it was for the insomnia. And what she gave me worked. But it came with a caveat.
I had to give up drinking.
Alcohol interfered with the effectiveness of the drug. She also warned me that alcohol was interfering with my ability to cope. Ironic, isn’t it? I was in the habit of drinking in order to cope. To help me deal with social situations and stress. Even to help me sleep. Give it up, she said. It is doing more harm than good. So I did. Gradually, reluctantly, imperfectly. But I did.
Boskone was my first sober con. My first con with my new identity as non-drinker. No longer the party girl I’d been all my life. In the past, I had turned to alcohol to enable me to handle the stress of intense and constant socializing, talking, having to think on my feet and improvise conversations. I could keep going until 2am that way. Without the alcohol, I was done by 9 o’clock. I just couldn’t face dealing with people any more. This is a severe handicap, since schmoozing with professionals until the wee hours at parties and other social functions is a critical part of career advancement. It’s a big part of what cons are all about.
So be it. That’s the trade-off. By retiring to my room early, and sober, I get enough sleep and I am up early, well-rested and sharp. I make the best use of the daytime hours. And I discovered I could still accomplish a great deal by carefully planning my day in the morning and calculating how I could attend panels with people I wanted to touch base with, having brief but focused conversations in the hallway afterwards, and making lunch or dinner dates with people I wanted to spend more time with.
I connected with Rob Sawyer and Jim Kelly, who had kindly blurbed my book, Awake Chimera. I had a short but extremely helpful conversation with Dan Kimmell (he had read and blurbed my first book, Archimedes Nesselrode) about how to turn a novel into a screenplay, and how to market it afterwards. And I got a critical piece of advice from an agent on “Rejectomancy” (a marvelous expression!), that is, how to interpret the particular sort of rejection I’d been getting for my novel submissions. He said, “Those are the best rejections you can get! Absolutely keep trying.” That panel on rejection, by the way, included a great rant from Jim Kelly about arrogance. After all these rejections, should I meekly accept that perhaps I don’t really have anything to say, and give up? Should I be so arrogant to think my work has any merit? Absolutely yes, you do have to be that arrogant! All of us writers (and artists!) need that arrogance to succeed.
Thank you, Jim! And I found myself thinking, I need this arrogance in my personal life, too. It’s really just self-confidence dressed in red. Yes, I absolutely have to be that arrogant, to think that my convictions matter, my instincts are correct, I’m not deluded, and what I have to say has merit. What I want and am has merit. And I will not meekly accept what I am told I must accept. I will be my own best self-advocate.
I left Boskone full of inspiration and ideas for projects. I am going to pursue turning Archimedes Nesselrode into a screenplay. My friend Margery Harrison, who has a great deal of experience writing screenplays, has agreed to give me a hand. And another friend, Jeff Warner, pitched a brilliant concept for sequels to Awake Chimera. He agreed to put together an outline of what he envisions which I can flesh out into prose. It could prove to be a very fruitful collaboration. I’ve got that new novel, Discorporate, which I must keep sending out to agents (in my persistent arrogance!) and a newly minted novel called The Juggler that I just got back from beta readers and must revise and prep for its debut on the market. Plus all the little stuff, like this blog, my articles for the Monitor, attending future cons and other sorts of writerly events. And oh yes, I’m also mentoring a writers’ group at the Boscawen Library. Blessed stars, what an agenda!
All this, while getting myself prepared to take over as director of the Philbrick-James Library in Deerfield when my boss retires. I’m going to need a good, full-time job with benefits if I’m to be able to support myself and keep the house for my boys and our critters. Our home is built on land I inherited from my mother, and I am hell-bent to hang on to it. Fortunately, my two boys, aged 18 and 21, are just as eager to keep the home, and are willing to help me in any way they can. It means they will have to go to work, and put off college (which we wouldn’t be able to afford anyway unless Bernie Sanders gets elected).
And I have to stay sober.
As arrogant as it seems, I believe I can do it. One step at a time, One day at a time. But not alone. Elaine, help me make that spreadsheet. Vikki, help me stay the course. Pat, keep cutting to the chase and giving me that good advice. Laura, keep reminding me about the needs of the spirit and making us those yummy lunches. Mary, keep getting me out on the trails and reminding me of the beauty of the mountains. Broads, keep rocking!
And everybody else, wish me luck.